Muncie Power Products in Tulsa

Early in 2004, Ray Chambers was presented with an interesting yet common charge in today’s manufacturing segment: Grow the company by increasing output in your existing facility.

Muncie Power Products, which has been around for 70 years, has set its sights on becoming the No. 1 global provider of innovative system solutions for PTOs and fluid power products to the truck and selected mobile equipment markets. To achieve this, company leaders knew changes had to be made in most of its eight facilities scattered across the nation, particularly at the PTO manufacturing and distribution center in Tulsa.

“We were encouraged to dust off our old expansion plans to accomplish our growth goals, but we knew there was a better way,” said Chambers, who heads the Tulsa plant and was familiar with Lean Manufacturing philosophies and certain if implemented properly the concepts would get the company where it needed to be.

Lean Manufacturing helps companies produce more with existing resources by eliminating non-value added activities. It establishes a systematic approach to reducing waste and creating flow throughout an entire company.

One of the first steps was to develop a Lean strategy team, consisting of Doug Sullivent, manufacturing manager and Lean leader, Maurice Coletti, production control manager, John Robertson, distribution manager, and Mark Todd, engineering manager.

Chambers also solicited the help of Curtis Evans, a manufacturing extension agent with the Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence. Evans is sponsored by Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow, one of 20 agents across the state that help maximize efficiencies. “Ray Chambers had the vision, and they jumped in with both feet,” said Evans. “Muncie was very focused on what needed to be accomplished and aggressive about going after it. They did the most planning of any company I have seen. Ray had it planned, but he stepped back and let the employees handle the implementation.”

Chambers said one of the key ingredients in the company’s success model has been an extremely dedicated and talented workforce committed to getting customers the products they want, when they need them.

“We get all of the employees together every four to six weeks and feed them lunch just to show them how much we appreciate them,” Sullivent said. “It really is difficult to describe how talented these people are and how the management team feels about each of them. We believe these functions would pay for themselves even if things weren’t going great right now. Our turnover rate is well below the national, state, and industry average and it is a direct reflection on the way we treat our employees. We see this as a key to retaining our most valuable asset, our employees.”

With such a vision on customer satisfaction, employees didn’t question the Lean concept, rather immediately embraced it.

“I am convinced that we have the best workforce in the industry,” Chambers added. “Sometimes I feel fortunate just to be able to work with them.”

The Muncie factory in Tulsa has a storied history. Fred Lamar, global purchasing manager, has been at the location for nearly 40 years.

“The Muncie Power Products building was first purchased from Hale-Hasell in November 1968 by Sperry-Vickers. Sperry Vickers manufactured PTOs, winches and planetary drives at this same location until 1986 when Muncie Power Products purchased the building and the PTO product line,” Lamar said. “I have literally grown up in this building. I was one of the original employees to move in with Sperry-Vickers in 1968 and it has been a real evolution. The recent Lean initiatives have changed the way we look at ourselves and the world today. I truly look forward to what is next in store for us.”

By implementing Lean principles, Muncie not only avoided the high cost of building expansions by freeing up more than 15,000 square feet of space, but sees the potential to free up an additional 15,000 square feet to satisfy future growth. The Lean team meets weekly to discuss upcoming events and establish priorities and actions necessary to accomplish initiatives in Lean events.

Muncie’s Tulsa location has been able to exponentially grow its business without reducing its 120-employee workforce. In fact, the company has hired a few new employees but more than doubled its production.

While it’s the human element that makes it possible, robotic machines and automation play an important role in Muncie’s output level. “Our shaft and gear cells have three robots that deliver product from machine to machine—from raw material to a finished part,” Coletti said. “This technology is not new and I am not sure that we even knew the entire benefits of this concept in 1982 when we first installed the robotic cells. I am pretty certain that the justification was based on a piece-cost reduction only. Even so, these cells manufacture product in a one piece flow, eliminating the batch process and inefficiencies that can be generated in a value stream from excess inventories. This philosophy of manufacturing has made it easy to convert our production planning process from MRP to Kanban-driven for the products they produce.”

Chambers said a necessary enabler for implementing Lean is the unique partnership of services and support the company has received from The Alliance, Tulsa Technology Center, and Industrial Solutions, a private consulting firm based in Tulsa.

“Between the monetary funding, facilities, curriculum, and expertise in Lean consulting, we feel we have really reaped benefits that others in competing states might not have available to them,” he said. “The effort to put together a comprehensive training and implementation model was very simple and easy to execute.”

The process has gone so smoothly and the results have been so impressive that the company’s corporate headquarters has grasped the concept. Although many of Muncie’s corporate executives had never been exposed to Lean, they were in tune with the notion of improving services to customers and have been passionate supporters, Chambers said.

The Lean process has now taken hold in Indiana and is making tremendous strides with the appointing of two Lean champions, Gordon McIlwain and Jon Miller. The company recently linked changes in Tulsa and Indiana to create a seamless flow of information and services to its internal and external customers.

“Even in the midst of rapid growth, when everyone feels stretched to the limits, implementing Lean is a great thing and can still result in real gains,” said Gerry Raubach, Industrial Solutions president. “In Muncie’s case, it demonstrated the need for management to be persistent in pursuing the path and not giving in to the urgency of the moment.”

After one year of coaching and training, Muncie now has five certified Lean leaders in Tulsa that effectively manage Kaizen events on a regular, regimented schedule. Chambers said that after nearly two years of living the Lean culture, Muncie employees wouldn’t go back to business as usual.

“When people are given the opportunity to design their own work area and improve the efficiency and safety of their working conditions, it creates an atmosphere of cooperation and understanding at all levels of the organization,” said Chambers. “As more and more people are affected by the Lean process, we are receiving an ever increasing amount of input from our company employees on how to improve our service to our customers and our work environment.”

While it might be difficult to estimate the total impact the Lean process will have on Muncie’s ability to serve its customers, Chambers and the Tulsa employees are excited about the possibilities the changes have and continue to present.

From an implementation standpoint, Evans said it presents a textbook example that other companies would be wise to follow.

“This was the perfect example of how Lean should—and can—work,” said Evans. “Almost any company, I don’t care what they are manufacturing, can use Lean. True, they are all unique in the products they produce, but processes are processes, and all have waste. The idea is to eliminate the waste and become more efficient. The Muncie implementation is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished if you understand the goal.”